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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Who You Listening To?

I remember the first controversial issue for the current Board majority, the Denny/Sealth co-location.

This was quite a controversy. The District decided, with no community engagement, to rebuild Denny Middle School on the Sealth High School campus. The two schools would be co-located.

When people found out about this a lot of them strongly objected. There was all kinds of meetings and hearings and such. It finally came down to this:

Every single constituency group opposed the co-location.

The students opposed it.

The teachers opposed it.

The school staffs opposed it.

The student families opposed it.

The neighborhood association opposed it.

The only people who spoke in favor of it were district staff people. They presented all kinds of skewed and dishonest spreadsheets that implied that the District would save all kinds of money from co-location. They touted the benefits of co-location and pooh-poohed the risks of it. They were really funny when they would first talk about how great it would be when the schools would share classes and resources and then, in the very next breath, deny that the students would ever mix.

In the end the Board voted to approve it. When they did I couldn't help wondering who they were listening to. They clearly were not listening to the community. One word from a District staff person outweighed volumes from the public.

Consider the parallel with Teach for America. Who is speaking for it? Mostly Teach for America and other Education Reform organizations. Who is speaking against it? Students, families, teachers. You know, constituents.

Ask yourself this: Do the Board Directors represent the public to the District or do they represent the District to the public?

Watch tonight and see. Who are they listening to?

18 comments:

WSMom said...

Not true. Denny staff supported it. Both principals supported it. And the people who were against it now acknowledge it was the right choice.

seattle citizen said...

WSMom,
If I recall, there WAS quite a bit of controversy, including among staff. I'd also imagine that the principals supported it because they had to, right?

Perhaps Charlie overstated when he wrote that all constituencies opposed it, but he usually has his facts in order (or at least his references, and most of the time his interpretations of them) and given the strength of his statement, he probably has evidence that every single constituency DID oppose it, at least at first or at some point in the protracted deliberations.

I'm sure that ALL staff didn't support it, at any rate.

Jan said...

WS North - I don't know about Denny staff, but the principal argument is a weak one. Principals really have no choice (which is why I think (hope) they so unanimously supported Discovery Math, as well). They can't publicly oppose their boss -- so that one, I discount.

Your other statement is very interesting, though. While I think Charlie's point (who did they listen to at the time) is a very valid one, it would be interesting to have a thread on how that whole plan is working out -- because from a distance (no kids there, don't live in WS, have never set foot in either school), it SEEMS to be going GREAT! Is that really the case? Enquiring minds want to know!

I will concede your point, though. Just because everyone wants something -- it doesn't make them right in every case (though, just because they don't get a District paycheck, it also doesn't make them wrong in every case -- and nothing justifies the Board's refusal to at least listen to them).

Also -- what really happened on the mixing stuff. Do they happily share resources with great synergistic results, or are the two campuses kept totally separated? Or?

Melissa Westbrook said...

WS Mom, where did you hear that the people who were against it now say it's the right choice? Denny staff supported it but not all the staff nor the parents (I followed this on the WS Blog). Certainly Chief Sealth didn't.

I'll put a query out to Tracy at the WS blog and some other WS folks I'm meeting with this weekend.

wseadawg said...

They haven't co-located yet. Denny doesn't move in until next year. How can we say it was right until then?

Despite liking both schools, I think the co-location of 11 year olds & 18 year olds is pure insanity, no matter what they do to keep them separate.

To me, it's just asking for all kinds of trouble.

Truth is that when the district makes up their minds, nothing can change them. This board won't overrule staff. We may get some tweaks here and there, but representation? Zip.

Jan said...

wseadog: this shows what I don't know. I am so clueless I thought co-loation had already happened. I guess I was assuming people were generally happy because Denny's enrollment numbers are high, and I wrongly assumed that Denny was at the joined campus. So -- I withdraw my question. If they aren't co-locating yet, it is pretty pointless to try to talk about how it is going.

WSMom said...

Actually, John Boyd took a pretty big risk being very publically supportive of the co-location. The Denny staff were in favor, most of the Sealth staff were not. He wrote detailed letters explaining why he was supporting the project to staff and families, and did a guest Op Ed for the West Seattle Herald. The letters very definately not the standard issue SPS communications puff piece. I don't think that he had to support it, or at least that he didn't have to vocally support it in the way he did.

Also, I think if you look back at the WSB coverage, it was much more split between in favor and against than the first post implied.

I attended an opening event at the school, were one of the people who sued the district over the project (alumni/neighbor who seemed to be in charge of either the PTSA or some other group) talked about how happy she was with how it turned out. I know a lot of Sealth staff who have said the same thing, and hear that the one teacher who quit in protest has said that he wished he could undo that choice.

Who do you know who still thinks it was a bad idea? Last I was aware, Sealth's enrollment is way up and it is now the desirable high school in WS.

AIEC said...

I am sorry, I don't see how having the schools back to back is all that different from being across the street from each other. Just me. Also, the South Shore middle school kids seem to have been just fine sharing the Rainer Beach campus last year. Hysteria for nothing I say.

dan dempsey said...

In 2007 Director Brita Butler-Wall said it all. It does not matter what the data and research presented by the public indicate. ==>
"We choose to trust our hired professionals."

Everyday Math approved 6-0 as Irene Stewart was not present.

Darlene Flynn Yes
Brita Yes
Cheryl Chow Yes
Michael DeBell Yes
Mary Bass Yes
Sally Soriano Yes

-------
Any resemblance to the TfA action is not by coincidence.

The constituents do not matter.
The parents do not matter.
The students are rarely served by decisions that contradict what the intelligent application of relevant data reveals is the most likely outcome.

WOW ... what a system.

Melissa Westbrook said...

AIEC, the buildings are co-joined, not just back to back. If the communities are fine (and we don't know that yet as Denny's building isn't done), that's great.

I have to say though that I wouldn't want to be in those buildings with a lockdown going on. I understand it takes awhile to close off the galleria between the two buildings.

Anonymous said...

From WSMom: "Last I was aware, Sealth's enrollment is way up and it is now the desirable high school in WS."

Well, of course it is a desirable high school in WS. When the choice is to enroll in the socially and academically poor environment of West Seattle high, or the more promising IB school that the district is pouring money into with a remodel amoung other things, which would you choose.

WSMom said...

Mellisa, have you been to the Sealth/Denny campus? The dividing wall of the Galleria (which is the extent of the shared student space, the two schools are quite seperate beyond that) is closed during the school day, and would only be opened for big events outside of school. So in your lockdown sceniro, the wall would already be closed.

Jan said...

WSMom: I am confused then. If the ONLY connection between the two schools is a galleria (whatever that is -- makes me want to buy Italian shoes!) that is kept closed except for "big events outside of school" (not sure what those are?), what is colocation all about, really? Is this the same as saying NOVA and Garfield were "colocated?" At least NOVA kids actually could take classes at GHS's campus. What is the source of changed feelings if Denny is not even in its part of the complex, and there is no interaction?

Charlie Mas said...

There is plenty of discussion about this in older blog posts, but I will summarize.

The District had this idea of rebuilding Denny on the Sealth campus, behind the gym. The primary benefit would be cost savings from having to build the shared facilities only once. The schools would not only share the atrium/galleria but also share music rooms, the student health center, and HVAC systems.

The District envisioned the schools sharing a lot of resources and there was talk about students from both schools being in music classes together.

The District imagined this Disney-fied, utopian, "Leave it to Beaver" scene five blocks north of White Center.

There had not been any clear communication to the public about the plan to co-locate the schools. The District only referenced it in the loosest, most ambiguous way. Most of the communication came from a SchoolsFirst! flier sent out to select addresses in support of the BEX III levy. It was really vague and certainly didn't say "We are going to rebuild Denny on the Sealth campus" or anything like that.

The members of the community were deeply concerned about the risks associated with the two populations mixing. They had legitimate concerns about high school students involving middle school students in risky activity that was beyond their maturity.

The District started back-paddling like crazy. They altered their plans. The students wouldn't share classes, the students wouldn't ever mix. They moved the Denny entrance to the other side of the block from the Sealth entrance, they promised staggered bell times, they promised staggered bus times.

Of course, every time they added a protective separation between the students they eliminated one of their promised benefits as well.

At first they described the school as a 6-12, but they quickly dropped that. They were talking about how having the schools co-located would smooth the transition to 9th grade and improve 9th grade performance, but couldn't explain how that would be preserved when the two schools were kept completely separate.

The District also tried to appease (bribe) the Sealth community with an extra $10 million in capital improvements.

In the end, the only benefit would be the capital cost savings and some small operating cost savings. There is not much real benefit to the students from the co-location. I think the only shared resources are the atrium, the student health center, the HVAC, and the music rooms. Someone correct me if I'm wrong about that.

The populations will, of course, mix outside the building before and after school. And, yes, they will do so more than they do now. Denny isn't exactly across the street from Sealth. It's across the street and at the end of a long block. The populations can and do mix a bit now on the sidewalks, but they would have to want to mix now. There will be more chance encounters when the schools are co-located.

The New Denny was built right on top of where the District had just finished building brand new tennis courts and softball field. They would only used for a year before they were demolished. There were other recent improvements at Sealth that got ripped out for the renovation. It was bad planning and a waste of money to build something and tear it out the following year. The District promises to re-build those facilities on the old Denny land.

I'm not sure how much capital money this will end up saving after the extra expenses are included.

I'm not sure how much the students from the two schools will interact or with what consequence. The District, as we know, synchronized bell times the following year. I suspect that Denny and Sealth students will ride buses together. It would be a terrible waste if they didn't.

Maybe everything will be fine. Maybe things will be no worse than would have been otherwise.

Jan said...

Thanks, Charlie. I should have gone back myself to see what was in the old blog posts. They all predated my reading of this blog -- but I know how to find them. I just didn't think about it.

Sounds like a typical SSD decision process. Whip up something half baked with no community input. And then -- when it belatedly comes, fabricate/improvise like mad so that you never have to actually back down and admit you were wrong.

me on 28th Ave SW said...

As a parent/neighbor who very strongly opposed the co-location, I can say that it still makes me angry how this all came about. Even at the time (when my student was a freshman) I was quite certain that Mr Boyd had the feeling that all he had to do was outlast those of us against this plan. After all, eventually all of us would move on as our children graduated and then he would be left with families that knew all along what they were in for. Because, after all, most of this controversy was about the timing, the lack of openness and the discovery that the whole production had been in the works for quite a while without letting the Sealth community know. I know families that had been at Denny prior to the 2007/2008 school year who state it was common knowledge at Denny that this was going to happen. Not so over at Sealth.
..
Whether or not this will be a successful endeavor is not proven. It will be years before it is. For whatever reason, Chief Sealth seems to be the district's new darling; the school you trot out to show off at photo ops. It is a great time to be there, but this kind of popularity can be fleeting. Real success will be attracting families for years to come.
..
The impact on our neighborhood will not be fully experienced until next fall when the Denny campus is moved. The schools are supposed to have different start times and bell times (this was a condition resulting from the lawsuit against the district) so I do not think they will be able to share buses. The district has also expressed interest in building an elementary school on the property where the old Denny will be torn down (in the future). Our quiet little neighborhood will be changing very soon.
..
As a parent who has one student at Sealth and one student at West Seattle HS, I am getting so tired of the "why our school is better than the OTHER school" mantra. Our peninsula deserves 2 good public high schools. Even though I opposed the Denny/Sealth project, I want to see it succeed. WSHS is in flux right now, but so was Sealth 3 years ago. You never can tell which way the wind is going to blow.

Anonymous said...

"I was quite certain that Mr Boyd had the feeling that all he had to do was outlast those of us against this plan."

That is pretty insulting given that he has his own kid in the school now and has said he plans for his middle school aged kids to attend in the future.

me on 28th Ave SW said...

"I was quite certain that Mr Boyd had the feeling that all he had to do was outlast those of us against this plan."

Nope, I still believe this. I do not see how this comment is insulting. It has taken me three years of experience to develop this opinion. I did not say it is an awful plan, I said that the majority of us that were there while it was being formulated did not agree with it. Mr Boyd truly believes in his vision, so of course he would be content to have his children attend. I am content to have my child there too, but that does not mean I automatically agree with all the decisions or how they came to them. I don't think any of my earlier statement was exactly groundbreaking stuff or should be shocking to anyone who has been following this. All the students and families who lived through these changes (the controversy, the 2 years at Boren, the shake up in the music program) will be gone from the school by spring 2012. If you think you will have any luck discussing any future decisions you may not agree about with this administration (at the school and district) you will soon know what I am talking about.